ANDERSON, Robert (1805-1871), Union General. Autograph letter signed ("Robert Anderson Major USA") to William A. Newell (1817-1901), Fort Sumter, S.C., 16 January 1861. 2 pages, 8vo (7¾ x 4 7/8 in.), minor browning in margins.
"GOD KNOWS TO WHAT OUR POOR COUNTRY IS DRIFTING": THE COMMANDER OF FORT SUMTER PREPARES FOR THE WORST: "MY HEART IS OPPRESSED WITH FEARFUL FOREBODINGS"
A poignant letter in which Anderson laments secession and the possibility of civil war only three weeks after his men abandoned the city of Charleston to take refuge within the formidable walls of Fort Sumter. Anderson was given command of the military garrison at Fort Moultrie in Charleston on November 15, but when South Carolina voted to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860, he became anxious about his command: "The wild, unrestrained secession celebrations that lasted up until Christmas in Charleston made him and his small band all the more aware of how dangerous their position was at the fort" (Hendrickson, Sumter, p. 71). Moultrie was built with inadequate walls making it indefensible from attack by land, a problem that was only enhanced by the insufficient size of the garrison. Determined not to sacrifice his men, the major planned a secret operation to evacuate to Fort Sumter. On December 26, under the cover of darkness, Anderson and his men escaped by boat to the harbor fortress.
Within a day, South Carolina militia had seized federal property around Charleston, including the abandoned Moultrie and the imposing Castle Pinckney. Anderson held firmly to Sumter, however, despite demands from Governor Pickens that he surrender. President Buchanan, under pressure from the northern press, prepared to resupply and reinforce this last remaining federal possession in South Carolina. But when the The Star of the West approached the harbor on January 10, it was turned back by an intense Confederate cannonade.
Anderson, a Kentucky native, watched helplessly while his fellow southerners turned against the flag under which he served: "he was a man torn between his duty and his beloved South" (Hendrickson, p. 38). Here, writing to the former Governor of New Jersey, the major despairs over recent events: "Many thanks for your very flattering and kind letter of the 9th inst. Such an approval warms my heart, as much as any thing can, in these gloomy times. God knows to what our poor country is drifting. It seems to me that my fellow countrymen in the South have lost all sense of right and wrong. They are beside themselves, and are doing things for which they will be deeply grieved, when the moment for reflection comes." Anderson remains confident that he can avoid conflict, assuring Newell that "I trust that I shall be enabled, by Gods blessing, to avoid bloodshed here," but he warns that the outlook for the nation is not bright: "With a dissevered confederacy, I fear that but a short time will elapse before some ambitious man, in temporary authority, will seek occasion to immortalize himself by making war upon some neighbouring state. And the fire once kindled, who can tell what sad havoc will result." Anderson concludes with a moving plea for peace: "My heart is oppressed with fearful forebodings, and I earnestly pray that God will deign to have mercy upon our poor country, and that he will save us from the ruin we are madly striving to bring upon ourselves."
Anderson's "fearful forebodings" were certainly justified. After a three-month standoff, Lincoln decided to press the issue by dispatching an unarmed relief flotilla to the fort (see the following lot). Unable to tolerate such a visible challenge to their authority, the Confedrate batteries were ordere to open fire on the Fort, launching the nation into four years of devastating civil war.